BON JOVI: KEEP THE FAITH (1992)
1) I Believe; 2) Keep The Faith; 3) I'll Sleep When I'm Dead; 4) In These Arms; 5) Bed Of Roses; 6) If I Was Your Mother; 7) Dry Country; 8) Woman In Love; 9) Fear; 10) I Want You; 11) Blame It On The Love Of Rock'n'Roll; 12) Little Bit Of Soul; 13*) Save A Prayer.
One thing you gotta give to these guys: they sure know how to adapt to the changing times. Or, perhaps, somebody knew how to adapt them to the changing times. The majority of hair metal bands could come and go and leave no trace whatsoever, but Bon Jovi were the major hostages of the system par excellence: the biggest band in the world, or something close to that, does not just come and go at will. They had to reinvent themselves and come out on top as usual, or something would be revealed as wrong with the business model.
In other words, in this era of triumphant grunge and «alt-rock» values, as rock'n'roll music once again seemed to be entering a «serious» age, Bon Jovi had to get serious, too. That entire "bad medicine is what I need!" schtick had to go, although there are still some traces of it here, in the form of the oh-so-flat barroom rocker ʽBlame It On The Love Of Rock'n'Rollʼ, for instance. Not that this was any sort of problem for Jon Bon Jovi, who had always, more than anything in the world, be Mr. Bono Springsteen the Third, and now it's as if Father Time himself was knocking on his door: "Two minutes to Big Social Statement Ball, Mr. Bon Jovi!"
The change of producer was accidental: they wanted Bruce Fairbairn on the job again, but he was busy producing guess what? — Aerosmith's Get A Grip, of course! — and so they had to settle for the next best thing: Bob Rock, who helped Mötley Crüe become a household name with Dr. Feelgood. The overall production values or sound type have not changed much, actually, except for one obvious thing — the album is much more bass-heavy, both in the guitar and keyboards department, symbolically reflecting an increase in Depth. As for the songs, the good old «power ballad» is not going anywhere, what with it already having had Depth from the beginning; but the «cock rocker» is thoroughly replaced by the «heart rocker».
I would guess that anybody who first saw the track listing on the new Bon Jovi album would have to go, «oh no, they're Christian rockers now!» But in fact, calling the songs ʽI Believeʼ and ʽKeep The Faithʼ was just a cozy trick to attract a part of the religious audience — lyrically, it is never made clear what it is exactly that we have to believe in, and what sort of faith should we keep: both tunes are just vague-and-vapid «spiritual anthems» of the «life-is-shit-but-we-will-pull-through» variety. There's also a song with the word «soul» in the title, and if you get the bonus-tracked edition, the last song is called ʽSave A Prayerʼ. Well — only natural, now that you have probably made love to every single young female on the planet, to save a little prayer for desert, and make us all think about our souls, if only for a little bit.
Now here comes the strange part: many, if not most, of these songs are fairly catchy — no matter how much more pomp they pump, the vocal hooks are still there. ʽI Believeʼ is a slavish imitation of U2, and Jon's Bono-influenced wail is wailed at just the right climactic moment in just the right intonation to convince a hundred thousand-strong stadium to sing along. ʽKeep The Faithʼ, the band's first experience with that new, trendy, funk-poppy, Madchester-style sound that keeps your body so busy, also does a good job of gradually climbing up towards the explosion. And I will even put down the grin for a moment and admit that ʽFearʼ is a good song — notwithstanding the open theft of the main chorus riff from Michael Jackson's ʽBeat Itʼ, its paranoid buildup has something really scary about it (it doesn't hurt, either, that the song is not as mercilessly stretched out as everything else on here, clocking in at 3:05 like a good lad).
Even so, they manage to overdo it every now and then. The most obvious case is ʽDry Countyʼ, a song squeezed out to Epic Proportions because Epic Points need to be justified by Epic Length. How do you know which one is a record's major artistic statement? — by the size, of course. Building up, falling down, stopping for breath, kicking the shit out of that drumstand, unwinding the most frickin' ecstatic guitar solo of your life — all of this going hand in hand with lyrics about the failure of The American Dream, be it for one person in particular or for all mankind. Are you game enough to join Jon and Richie in their eulogy for idealism? I'm not. The whole experience is way too artificial and calculated, and who really needs it if you can have Neil Young's ʽRockin' In The Free Worldʼ instead of this combination of gloss with primitivism?
Yet on the whole, despite all the predictably calculated aspects and despite the rather irritating length, Keep The Faith is probably the last Bon Jovi album that is consistently listenable. The songs keep their «tough» musculature and frequently rock, the choruses are well thought out, and you could trim these 70 minutes down to a reasonable 40 if you pruned out some of the power ballads (ʽBed Of Rosesʼ is just awful, and would be just as awful even if it did not contain the hilariously-unintentionally-blasphemous line "I wanna be just as close as your holy ghost is") and removed some of the verses and/or bridges from others. And yes, ʽDry Countyʼ would have to go — not because it is the worst song on the album, but simply out of principle. Quod licet Iovi, non licet Bon Jovi, as the Romans said, which freely translates into English as: «What the hell is a nine-minute song doing on a Bon Jovi record, of all possible places?»